It’s a chilly February morning. As rain lashes and the wind drives leaf piles into whirlpools, I consider mental health. A hot topic at present. It seems there is a lesser discussed side effect of the mass COVID-19-withdrawal from municipal life: A prevalent dip in self-esteem, and looking at the issue is relevant to anyone’s sense of value, corona-virus or not.
Before COVID-19 stopped us meeting in public places, or entertaining at home, it was normal to derive self-image from public and personal roles.
Now, the pandemic highlights a glitch in how we measure our value.
Roles may still apply, but the way we carry them out is different. There is no one to give you a high-five if you solve an important problem at work. And there are fewer ways to celebrate new accolades and enjoy encouraging slaps on the back.
Role-playing involves less human interaction, and your sense of esteem is at stake. This only applies, nonetheless, if you think your value depends on approval and comparison.
Approval-seeking and comparison
We use ability and social and financial status as measures of personal worth. So, the receipt of an annual bonus at work, an exam passed, or likes on social media boost self-esteem. A sense of value rises because people approve, and we can make a favorable comparison between them and us.
Granted, we might be pleased because greater wealth provides more freedom. A new qualification means we can step higher on the career ladder. And social media likes might mean we’ve demonstrated worthwhile behavior.
Mostly, however, elevated self-esteem stems from approval and how we see our place in the world when we compare ourselves to other people.
When approval and comparison don’t work
If you derive self-worth from your career and it goes down the pan, you’re stuffed. So, as you age and can’t play the cello anymore, or you lose your job in accounting, your esteem plummets. You believe you are worth less.
The problem arises from a loss of social standing, financial status, and favorable comparison. If your identity and self-belief rely on these fragile measures, it’s no wonder you lose self-esteem when they deteriorate.
The same goes when you gain self-esteem from respected labels like care-giver or healer. Your circumstances and roles could change. But there’s more to you than what you do.
Your true value springs from what you are even when you do nothing. In other words, a strong sense of worth has more to do with being than doing. It doesn’t involve qualifications, a special ability, or physical attractiveness.
It has nothing to do with the roles you play, the way you look, or your bank account. These measures of worth are about comparisons and deciding you are superior or inferior.
Which begs a question. Aren’t we better off deriving worth from fundamental values rather than those with little intrinsic merit?
Better measures of worth
Maybe, if we drop the idea we must be seen in specific ways, which is about the self in relation to others, and place more value on character traits, and compassion and respect, we’d be happier.
In such a world, we need not appear successful or long to be liked or admired. We need not demonstrate an impressive skill, and we don’t have to make ourselves irresistibly attractive in a myriad of ways to feel acceptable.
In this new world, we are valuable simply because we exist. We are free to recognize we are part of nature, and as such are as worthwhile as the sparrow and the oak tree.
We never point at a sparrow and say “that one’s better than another one because it can hop faster.” So, why do we think we must create an outward show of brilliance and perfection?
When we know we are born valuable and don’t have to sing and dance to make ourselves worthwhile, we will be less prone to anxiety and depression. We will see our value is inbuilt, ever-present, and non-negotiable.